At the start of each year, as the technology community looks back to what’s happened during the past 12 months, publications like to say things like “2011 was the year that Android caught up” or “2011 was another failed year for Microsoft’s Windows Phone”. We didn’t really do that this year since so much happened that it was difficult for even us to wrap our heads around everything, but one thing is certain, nearly every smartphone that was worth caring about came with a dual core processor. From the Samsung Galaxy S II that was announced last February and eventually came to America during the summer, to the iPhone 4S that came out in November, and then finally the Galaxy Nexus in December, 2011 was all about dual core handsets. Fujitsu thinks they can do better and at CES this year they showed off a quad core smartphone. The device doesn’t yet have a name, and no one was allowed to touch it, but we do have a spec sheet: 1.2 GHz NVIDIA Tegra 3, 4.6 inch 720p resolution screen, 13 megapixel camera, and 4G LTE connectivity.
Fujitsu says this mysterious device will be shown off in a more final form during Mobile World Congress next month, but we’ve got to wonder if it’s too much too soon? NVIDIA would like to make you believe that having four cores is better than having two cores, but they’re making the same mistake that Intel made at the turn of the century with the Pentium 4. Back then Intel believed that the only way to get more computing power from a processor was to ramp up the clock speed, whereas their closest competitor AMD came out with a much more efficient architecture that could achieve the same benchmark results at a much lower clock rate. Intel eventually mimicked AMD’s strategy, and we’re likely to see the same thing happen in mobile.
Qualcomm is going to come out with next generation cores that are more efficient than their previous generation cores. Samsung and Texas Instruments have already announced that they’ll be making chips based on ARM’s next generation Cortex A15. So do four cores matter? In the end the market will decide, but in today’s world we think no, they don’t.